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'All we could use was our hands'

Young man carried on stretcher after being rescued from under the rubble of a school in Haiti

Haitian construction worker Joseph Jules, 34, tells of the frustration he felt only being able to use his hands to try to rescue children trapped under the rubble of a collapsed school in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

We got the call at around one o'clock local time on Friday.

All construction workers were called to volunteer their skills to help rescue the trapped school kids. Because we have all the necessary health and safety uniforms, like hard-hats, and equipment, we were in a better position than most to help.

When we got to the school, everybody was yelling and screaming. It was tragic - people trying to find their kids and begging us to help them find their kids.

If we'd needed a million people to help we would've had that many helpers - everybody wanted to help

They were mostly mothers but maybe it seemed that way because the women were the ones you could hear crying. Of course there were fathers and relatives too but the women were most noticeable.

We brought sticks, shovels, lights, water, first aid things to help. We brought our trucks equipped with lifting devices but because the entrances to the school are in such a high density area and so narrow we couldn't even use it.

Pain and anger

We could only walk into the site.

Standing on top of what was left of the school was very disheartening.

Hands digging through the rubble find a maths text book

We wanted to use shovels but we couldn't in case the digging caused further collapses and dropped onto the people trapped down below.

We tried to use torches to cut through metal but we could only do a couple.

Everyone felt so frustrated not being able to help. We're all human. You could feel the pain and the anger around; you could hear the mothers crying.

And all we could use was our hands.

No plan

The fire department brought a crane but it couldn't be used either - it didn't even reach the school. It had to be abandoned before it even got close to the school because it caused damage crashing several cars and injuring people in the street.

Some people were talking to those who were trapped on mobile phones and so I think that helped calm some but I don't know. You can't know for sure.

I'd say that if we'd needed a million people to help we would've had that many helpers - everybody wanted to help. The sad thing is that we were so many but we didn't have the necessary tools. There's never been an incident like it before and so nobody could tell you what to do - there was no plan.

Everybody was also really afraid to try different things because if you accidently dropped something on somebody and they died then you would have killed someone - you don't want that.

We rescued a couple but a lot were already dead. There was a lot of death.

Deck of cards

Probably well over 100 people lost their lives; and we keep counting. It's going to take days to know.

A parent at the site of the collapse
Anxious parents gathered at the site of the collapse

One mother there had five children in that same school and she couldn't find any of them. She hadn't seen them since they all left home to walk to school that morning. People were comforting her.

But what do you say?

I never even knew that the school - La Promesse College - had existed before this terrible incident. The school had been big: primary, elementary, secondary levels plus it also had a trade apprenticeship section.

So, lots of pupils; between 200 and 700 children apparently.

You know when you build a house out of a deck of cards and then if the wind blows, all the cards come falling down? That's what I would compare it to. A three-storey building all crashed, all collapsed and crammed into the basement level and then rising up, rubble on top of more rubble.

In the area where the school had stood, the government had banned any building. It should never have been built in the first place; and even though it had been, from what I know, the materials that had been used were inferior and had been rationed. Houses in Haiti have to be built really well and this one wasn't.

That's why it collapsed.


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SEE ALSO
In pictures: Haiti school collapse
08 Nov 08 |  In Pictures
Deadly school collapse in Haiti
08 Nov 08 |  Americas
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Timeline: Haiti
04 Jun 08 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Haiti
04 Jun 08 |  Country profiles

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